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Tennessee case twists and turns toward death

Story Highlights

• Philip Workman was convicted of killing a Memphis police officer
• Appeals based on new evidence have been denied
• Workman has two appeals pending; lethal injection scheduled for May 9
By Ashley Fantz
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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Seven years ago, Philip Workman got the kind of news a death row inmate wants.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeal had granted him a rare hearing to weigh evidence that had emerged since his 1982 conviction for killing a Memphis, Tennessee, police officer during an armed robbery of a Wendy's restaurant.

A witness, an ex-convict named Harold Davis, said under oath that he had lied when he testified at Workman's trial that he saw Workman fire a .45 at Lt. Ronald Oliver.

Also, fresh ballistics information surfaced that suggested one of the two other officers who answered the restaurant's silent alarm had accidentally shot Oliver.

In January 2005, a retired Memphis police officer who went to jail for manufacturing phony drivers' certificates swore in an affidavit that the Memphis police covered up details of Oliver's shooting.

Five original Workman jurors signed affidavits saying they would not convict Workman and send him to death row with the new witness and ballistics information.

"That eyewitness kind of put the nails in the coffin. We believed that young man who said he saw the whole incident," said juror Wardie Parks, 66, of Memphis. He is haunted by the belief Workman did not get a fair trial.

"If the state of Tennessee executes Philip Workman, they are committing murder."

But the 6th Circuit ruled in 2000 that the new information was not enough to grant Workman another trial. Judges since have issued similar rulings.

State prosecutors would not comment to CNN, referring all questions to the governor's office, which also would not comment on Workman's case.

Since the 2000 ruling, Workman has had five execution dates. Three times he has come within 72 hours of his death by injection. Each time, courts have intervened. He now is scheduled to die May 9. (Watch Workman recall the night of the crime Video)

Workman was denied clemency at a hearing in 2001, primarily because Memphis Medical Examiner O.C. Smith dismissed the friendly fire theory.

Barbed wire, live bomb, big questions

A strange wrinkle in Workman's case came a year later when Smith was discovered near his office bound in barbed wire. A live bomb was strapped to his neck and lye splashed in his face.

Smith said his attacker warned, "Push it, pull it, twist it and you die. Welcome to death row."

For a year, investigators looked for the mystery assailant.

In 2005, Smith was indicted on charges he staged the attack.

Former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins called psychiatrist Park Dietz to the stand. Dietz testified that Smith may be suffering from a disorder that compels him to make up elaborate lies for attention.

"Dr. Smith made a living out of putting his credibility on the line as an expert witness in a lot of capital cases," Cummins said.

A hung jury ended the trial. Smith told CNN in April he continues to serve as a medical expert in cases, including a homicide trial in January of a defendant who was facing the death penalty.

There are people who are looking forward to seeing Workman die.

Retired Memphis police officer Aubrey Stoddard was at the scene the night his fellow officer, a man he said "wouldn't hurt a flea," was shot.

Although it wasn't his job to answer alarm calls, Oliver heard the Wendy's alarm and turned his car around, heading there alone. He had a "get things done yourself" attitude that other cops appreciated, Stoddard said.

He said he's offended by the friendly fire theory.

"[Workman] ought to get what he deserves," Stoddard said. "He should be put to death."

Oliver's widow Sandra Oliver Noblin has a policy of not talking to reporters but she has said publicly on several occasions that she is looking forward to Workman's execution.

Another Oliver family member -- who today works in law enforcement -- told CNN that his family's heartache has lasted 26 years as Workman's case rambled through appeals courts. Insisting that his name not be used, the relative said, "The family is done with it. As far as they are concerned the justice system has let them down."

Workman has two last appeals in federal court claiming he was convicted on perjured testimony and the state withheld evidence during his trial. Typically, stays are issued at least a week before a scheduled execution.

He has asked his family and lawyers to stay away on May 9. "If they want to upset me, that's the thing to do, show up."


Tennessee death row prisoner Philip Workman is scheduled to die by injection May 9 for killing Memphis Police Lt. Ronald Oliver in 1981.


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